The slideshow below shows a sequence of work beginning with a tiny sycamore seed found while we were staying in the Scilly Isles.
Although I am pleased with the panel, and the looser marks and splodges of stain, I feel I am still not done with the sycamore seed, not the row of sycamore trees in Scilly. I shall return to them one day.
We have recently returned from a week in the beautiful and wild Scilly Isles, 28 miles off the Cornish coast, and well-loved for their lush flowering plants, sandy coves, turquoise seas and brilliant light. There are very few cars, and exploration happens on foot, or on bicycles, by boat, or if necessary, golf caddies!
During our exploration of the archipelago, we found two churches furnished recently with stained glass by local glass artist Oriel Hicks, who runs the Phoenix Studio on St Mary's. The windows in the church on Bryher are a setting of Biblical texts, and I noted that the design elements are set within a framework of transparent glass, which allows in a lot of light. On the tiny wild island of St Agnes, her windows are a tribute to those who risk their lives at sea.
I found these designs more satisfying, and I enjoyed spotting a lovely detail: a tiny ship on the horizon, foundering on some treacherous rocks.
I drew every day, out on the coast paths and back in the north of St Mary's where we were staying. I enjoyed drawing the swaying rows of elms (yes, elms) and sycamores. Elms and thrushes have survived on the islands, while they have been wiped out or gone into decline on the mainland.
I loved the upright curves of the tree trunks, and what could be see in between, which of course makes me think of lead and glass. I focused down on one tiny sycamore seed, and it was this drawing which took me forward on my return to the studio.
For several months now, I have had ideas and images in my head, which relate to Creation, as in Genesis: In the beginning....' I am of course not the first glass artist to be drawn irresistibly to imagining the separation of the light from the darkness, and the time when darkness was upon the face of the deep. I also love the idea of dividing the waters from the waters, and gathering the waters under the heaven into seas.
The issue for me is, how to capture those ideas and internal imaginings on paper, in such a way that they can be developed and shared with others. I am happy with a pencil in my hand, and up until now I have used coloured pencils to suggest the colour of the glass I imagine, but pencils don't give me the intensity of colour or much suggestion of texture, as the light comes through the glass. I have become confident about line, but I need to be able to experiment with the balance of colour and tone across the composition. I also need a more effective way of showing commissioning clients what a finished design is intended to look like.
So with all this in mind, this summer I refreshed my experience of using 'mixed media' with a workshop by the painter Ella Clocksin at Waterperry Gardens. We had the opportunity to draw in the garden and then try using wax resists and washes of professional quality watercolour paint, along with marks made with oil pastels and chalk pastels, on good quality, textured paper. One of my experiments from the day is below.
I have since started to build on my initial pencil sketches for 'creation' ideas. I want to suggest the birth of our galaxy, with sea creatures under the surface of the water, ready to be born. Having a much wider range of colour and textures is helping my imaginative and design process, and I think it is going to be useful to make finished designs, which will convey my intentions for the final piece better to other people.
I have a long way to go on this project, and I'd like to move away from an illustrative approach. I am looking forward to continued experimentation, and to going larger.
With a little help from my friendly carpenter, Andy, my 'Lilies' panel is now installed in Ann and Phil's sitting room in Charlbury. Placing it in the window space was a very satisfying moment. If anything, the effect is better than I had anticipated. It looks very fitting and 'meant' at the back of the window space, which seems deep, as it such a narrow 'arrow slit' window. It immediately had an effect on the whole room: for instance, the black of the lead picks up the black of the stove, and even the TV.
Best of all, the clients are very pleased, and look set to enjoy living with it.
"We are so enjoying the 'Lilies' window Anna has made for us - it has enhanced our sitting room with its beautiful design and glowing colours, and it was fun planning it with her."
I am really pleased to have added colour, richness and life to what was an impersonal, narrow window.
A trip to North Wales last week offered the opportunity to take the scenic route and drive up via Chester to see a window I had heard about. Ros Grimshaw won a fabulous commission to design and make a Millennium Window for Chester cathedral. Installed in 2001, it is large, very striking window in the west wall of the refectory. It depicts the hand of god moving through the six days of his creation of the world, from the stars and planets, to the plants and creatures, such as ourselves.
What has touched people particularly is the personal imagery she has included. She has Parkinson's disease, and the imagery includes the scan of her Parkinsonian brain (above, centre), and a foetus in the womb (above, right).
She has overcome her considerable, and increasing, difficulties to celebrate creation, and she has written a book about the journey, called 'Six Days'. I hope, like God, she rested on the seventh day, to look upon her work and see that it was good.
For several months I have been mulling a personal project about creation, in particular, about separating the light from the dark. Seeing the Chester Creation Window inspires me to set aside some time this summer to develop my ideas and experiment with ways of expressing them.
I was asked to design and make stained glass to fill a very narrow 'arrowslit' window in the sitting room of a house in Charlbury. The house is modern, but built in traditional Cotswold materials. Most of the light in the room floods in from large full height windows to the garden. This little window is to the side, facing West, where it catches the sinking sun.
The clients were open to the idea of an abstract or semi-abstract design, and initially only imagined having a panel within the top of the window space, being concerned not to lose too much light. I thought a whole window would work better, with more happening, in richer darker colours, at the top, fading to clearer glasses at the bottom. The tall narrow shape was a design challenge in itself.
Happily, while I was musing, my husband bought home some lilies, which I always enjoy drawing. It struck me that I could take a visual slice of the lilies in the vase, with intricate parts of the lily flowers above, and the simpler lines of the stems below. I could even use the water line. I took initial colour ideas from some Japanese prints in the room: rich amber and blue, and I planned to use pale, reamy, bubbly glasses for the underwater area.
Gradually naturalistic drawings were simplified into a set of designs to show the clients: essence of lilies and water, not all the detail.
Happily, we agreed on the best design. My next step was to source all the materials, make the full size cutline drawing and get making. It is quite a process, and took me four weeks. Here is the slideshow:
Even though the panel is now complete, and the frame is strengthened with reinforced lead, plus the soldering and cementing, I will be cautious in handling it, even when it is fully dry. I am dying to see it upright against the light, but I must wait until I can take it to the client's house and get it set into the window cavity with a wooden frame. I do hope they like it.
I returned from a week walking the levadas in Madeira with some strong impressions I wanted to capture: towering sea cliffs, lush tropical plants and flowers: palms of every kind, bananas, banks of agapanthus lilies, datura, lilies growing in the crooks of tree branches, and above all, the extraordinary Bird of Paradise flower. I returned with photos and sketches and started making thumbnail designs.
With Artweeks coming up, I thought I'd make some work for the garden - how about tropical flowers to hang in English trees? I set about cutting pieces of Spectrum glass to fuse together in the kiln, always creating a space for attaching a hanging loop.
Once they were safely in the kiln, I had a lovely time playing with the waste pieces. Before I knew it, a Bird of Paradise was being formed, which I could sandwich in-between two layers of transparent fusing glass to create a circular panel.
With Birds of Paradise on my mind, and circles, I turned to the circular cast iron frame I bought in Bristol, with the intention of making a large panel for a garden. There were times when I thought only a fool makes a circular panel - it is much, much harder to cut and in particular to lead, as the normal method of bracing it against the corner made by two straight battens doesn't apply. After some head-scratching, my lovely husband made me a semi-circular jig. Mark 2 worked well.
It was very satisfying when I had finally wiggled the last piece into place and could close the circle. I can't wait to see it in the cast iron frame ready for the garden. I will be showing it in Artweeks, alongside other possible designs, to be made to order.
I decided to set aside a week for some linocut printing, which I still enjoy, even though I only got involved with it while my studio was being built and I couldn't work in glass. I began by trying to make a design based on the fantastic vertiginous view from the rocky sea cliffs of Cabo Girao, looking down past the aloe vera and the prickly pears, right down to the terraced fields and the Atlantic below.
I then returned to the Bird of Paradise flowers for a two colour print. I discovered a wonderful orangy yellow called Indian yellow, which I realise is what Indians call saffron yellow. There is a slide show of my printing below. The two colour print is a 'reduction' print, which means you gradually destroy your block as you go - hence they are limited editions!
Now, all I need to do is some mounting and framing and I'll have some new prints to show for Artweeks.
It's a lovely thing to deliver a piece of work you have designed and made over a period of weeks - to see it in situ - especially when it fits! (Not that I ever had any doubts about my measuring, of course). Also great to see the look on the client's face.
Those of you who look at my Facebook page (facebook.com/annagillespieprintsandglass) will know that this internal window panel features little birds, painted and stained in the medieval style - and with medieval technology!
I have used the making of it to create a 'Process' page for my teaching section. You can see it here.
Some of the birds have already flown the nest and are currently on display in the GLASS exhibition at West Ox Arts in Bampton until 30 March.
I will be in the gallery from 10.30-12.30 tomorrow, doing some demonstrations, if you would like to join me.
Meanwhile, back in Charlbury, another project beckons: a long thin 'arrow slit' window, in a modern house, built in traditional Cotswold materials. Some ideas are already bubbling away...I see deep oranges and amber, rich blue...
This could only be by one person - Marc Chagall. What a treat to call in at a small Church in Tudeley, near Tonbridge, on the way back from a New Year's visit to family and friends, and to be greeted by an entire scheme of twelve gorgeous stained glass windows, full of the distinctive feeling and symbolism of Chagall, including angels (above) and asses (below).
The painting is loose and free and if you look closely - which you can, as most of the windows are at eye level - you can see all sorts of marks and scratchings made by Chagall even after they were installed.
The work began with a commission for this large East Window above the altar, to commemorate an aristocratic and art-loving young woman who died aged 21 in a sailing accident. The story is that when Chagall came to see the window installed in 1967 he said' 'It's magnificent. I will do them all!'
He collaborated with the stained glass artist Charles Marq of the Jacques Simon workshop in Reims, and theirs seems to have been as close a working partnership as John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens. Chagall only began working in stained glass in his seventies and he was still working in glass in the year of his death at the age of 98. That's what I call a long and creative life. A positive way to start 2019.
On Saturday I was in the glass workshop in Ely Cathedral, at the beginning of a day course on stained glass painting techniques with Pippa Blackwell. I had brought with me the outline of a creature I believed was a dragon, but my fellow student Julia was more knowledgable about heraldry and she immediately recognised it as a wyvern - a two legged creature with wings and horns. Good to know!
I had been waiting months to do this course and it was satisfying to learn how to use the long rigger brush properly with the hand-rest, to make confident and lively lines. Then we got it fired quickly (in a rather crowded garage next to the cathedral) before applying a matt of paint all over, smoothing it out with the badger hair brush and beginning to work into that with a stiff little brush - that is how I created texture in the wings and what I hope suggests a slimy sheen down his tail. Finally, we applied silver stain on the other side, which is what gives the golden colour and it is this which is the origin of the term 'stained glass'. Then it was fired again to take home. Now I can ponder how best to frame it. A rich royal blue I think.
The weekend was rounded off with a nostalgic wander around Cambridge (I studied History of Art there). My head full of paint and stain, we sought out the work of John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens in the chapels of Churchill College and Robinson College, both built after the Second World War.
In recent times, the builders of new Oxbridge colleges have had very ambivalent feelings about whether there should be a chapel at all - especially at Churchill, which was founded to support the sciences and technology in particular. But surely it is a good thing to have a contemplative space within each college, where students and staff can sit occasionally and watch pools of coloured light fall onto the floor? Somewhere to put their 'essay crisis' or departmental wrangles into perspective?
I hope you enjoy the slideshow below.
I am a glass artist based in Charlbury, Oxfordshire. I work in stained and fused glass. I work to commission and teach stained glass in my studio. I open my studio to visitors during Oxfordshire Artweeks.
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